It was an odd but ultimately fruitful decision for Netflix to have Shadow and Bone adapt not one but two of Leigh Bardugo’s beloved YA Fantasy series’ into a new fantasy epic show. Allowing fans to see both the world-saving mission of Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) in the Grisha trilogy as well as the scrappy adventures of the thieving Crows from the Six of Crows duology was an interesting decision. And fans were certainly happy to see their favorite characters brought to the screen. But with these two stories stacked against each other, it was inevitable that one would take precedence and that was always going to be the story the show was named after, Shadow and Bone. It’s Alina on all the posters at the end of the day.
Two Different Kinds of Stories
Shadow and Bone is a pretty straightforward hero’s journey, collect-the-artifacts-to-save-the-world kind of story. Chosen one with special powers leads a resistance to change the world. The works. But the Crows are different. They operate in the shadows, they’re underhanded underdogs, and they work for themselves before anything else. Their stories aren’t grand world-saving adventures but intricate narratives of trickery and subterfuge as they fight their way through some of the seediest underbellies their world has to offer. It’s not glamorous, it’s not grand, and it leaves the Crows in Shadow and Bone feeling somewhat out of place. It was somewhat understandable in Season 1 as we only had half the Crows and their story was almost entirely new to account for their presence in Alina’s story. But Season 2 manages to simultaneously draw a lot directly from the Crows’ books while feeling like it clips their wings in the process.
Season 2 seemingly doubles down on their role as secondary characters to Shadow and Bone’s plot. We finally have all six crows (well, the sixth is in a cage) but what they’re allowed to do is still very much dictated by the plot of Shadow and Bone rather than their own narrative forces. What we see from them is a mix of events pulled from both books in their duology and things created wholesale for this new version of the story. Seeing the Crows take down one of their biggest enemies, Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly), only halfway through the season is a bit disorienting for fans of the books. We get quite a few iconic scenes from the book like the Troupe distraction, Inej (Amita Suman) versus the assassin, and Kaz (Freddy Carter) fighting off all the Dregs, but these events lack the same punch because we haven’t gotten the time to understand why it’s happening or the insanity it’s taken for them to pull this off. The Crows are scrappy, cunning, and more than willing to get their hands dirty, and that’s what makes watching them have to constantly improvise against unexpected problems so engaging. It’s a far cry from the massive, magical plot happening with Alina, but it’s just as fascinating. So to see the most interesting moments in their story condensed into a less impactful version of itself can’t help but be a little disappointing.
Major Moments Lack The Same Punch
In Season 2, we’re simultaneously experiencing the beginning and the end of the Crows’ story. Matthias’ (Calahan Skogman) imprisonment takes place before Six Of Crows even begins, and the Crows are hoping to break him out not just because they made a deal with Nina (Danielle Galligan) but because they are trying to steal something from Fjerda on a job they’ve been hired for. As a Fjerdan, Matthias is a valuable asset to them. But in this season, we see Matthias in prison while what the rest of the Crows get up to comes from Crooked Kingdom, the second book in the duology. Everything with Pekka Rollins, Kaz’s revenge, Inej’s freedom, and even Wylan (Jack Wolfe) and Jesper’s (Kit Young) romance majorly comes from the second book. And even what remains has been changed drastically.
The fight Kaz has to try and recruit the Dregs to his side actually has quite a different context in the book. Kaz had actually been working with the Dregs for a while, only losing them after the Fjerdan mission went awry and when he fights them it’s not only to get their manpower but to literally reclaim the club that was once his home base. Similarly, Inej’s standoff against the assassin loses some of its bite. Inej’s fight in the novel is not against a taxidermist but an assassin, still hired by Pekka Rollins but this time a young girl much like herself. The assassin is called Dunyasha, and she’s just as adept an acrobat as Inej. Inej sees Dunyasha as her Shadow, a concept from her Suli culture that doing something wrong gives rise to a shadow that, with enough bad actions, will grow large enough to seek retribution. Inej sees Dunyasha as a literal manifestation of all she has done wrong. It’s not just a challenging fight for her, it also forces Inej to question all she has done and stands for. Capturing these character moments in the broad strokes but failing to capture all the underlying meaning that makes them interesting does such a disservice to these wonderfully complex characters.
Minor Character Beats Get Cut As Well
It’s not only the big moments that lack the same punch but smaller ones as well. Wylan and Jesper’s romance is fragile and fledgling, giving them a history is an interesting choice, but it doesn’t really add anything to their story. We get more emphasis on this one-night-stand than the aspects of their characters that really pull them together — their complicated relationships with their families, their similar lack of self-doubt, and the ways they really see each other. This extends to other couples as well with the choice to keep Matthias in Hellgate most of the season showcasing the lowest part of his relationship with Nina, something we only hear discussed afterward in the books. Or how the shuffling of scenes means that Kaz pushing Inej away comes right after one of the most tender and vulnerable scenes they share when Kaz helped her clean her wounds.
This isn’t to say the characters don’t feel like themselves or that the scenes we do get aren’t fun and interesting. But having six main characters stuffed into what is already a B-plot means these characters don’t get enough time to be explored in the depths they deserve. And with the order of their stories being mixed and retied to different threads, the parts that get emphasized feel different. Seeing how Hellgate has broken Matthias firsthand is very different from hearing about his PTSD afterwards.
With the Crows’ fight in Ketterdam finished halfway through the season, they needed a way to keep the characters relevant and get them involved with the main plot. Enter: The Shu Han MacGuffin mission. The Crows are tasked to carry out a plot invented wholly for the show in which they track down a weapon of folklore in Shu Han capable of slaying shadow. This is fitting going up against the Darkling, but this diversion keeps them busy all the way until the finale where finally Inej can come in with the blade and save Alina’s life a few times. The Crows spend the final battle scattered with a few minor assists from each of them but ultimately contributing very little to Alina’s world-saving plan. Having them show up for the finale is cool, and It’s exciting to see everyone all together, but you can’t help but notice how out of place the Crows feel among the ranks of Alina and Nikolai’s people. At the end of the day, this has been Alina’s story and the Crows are just circling around it and being handed boons to keep them relevant, so they can continue to delight audiences.
While we’ve gotten most of the Ketterdam plots and relationships well underway or finished by the end of Season 2, the finale also sets up the thing that becomes the crux of the Crows’ stories: Jurda parem. It’s a drug made by a Shu Han Fabrikator that is highly addictive but can make Grisha immensely powerful while taking it. The meeting Kaz holds at the end of the season where he says they’ve got a huge job to track down the researcher’s son in a Fjerdan prison is him setting up the heist that makes up the plot of the first Six of Crows book… even though we’ve already gotten through half the events of the second book. It’s wildly out of order but if Jurda parem is to be the main threat in Season 3, perhaps we’ll finally get to see the Crows take center stage.
There’s hope that the Crows will get to fly a bit more freely going forward. With Jurda parem popping up and Alina’s main mission fulfilled, the story can start to set its sights elsewhere. But for now, this kind of sucks for fans and for the characters. The problem isn’t that they have nothing to do, just that what they’re doing doesn’t feel nearly as important as some of the other plots. Six of Crows is a fantastic and beloved duology in its own right so to see the characters forced to play second fiddle in another story is disappointing. They can’t go off on their own self-contained adventures because they’re confined to the show they exist in, so what we get is a cobbled together story using bits of existing material and bits of new stuff to try and explain why they’re here. They can be so much more than Postmates for elusive and deadly artifacts but for now our Crows are grounded.